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Will voters overcome their politicians?

Jack Lessenberry logo

For months, a dedicated group of citizens calling themselves Voters, not Politicians, has struggled to come up with a way to give control of drawing legislative districts back to the people. The idea is to ensure fair, sensible and competitive representation to everyone.

That may sound like arcane political science babble, but it is not. Most of us are being effectively denied choices because of gross partisan gerrymandering done to ensure continuous Republican control of government.

This would be just as bad if the Democrats were doing it. But Republicans have dominated the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government during the last few redistricting cycles, which come every decade, the year after the census.

The result is that now we have a state senate so badly skewed that a few years ago, Democratic candidates got more votes statewide – and Republicans got 26 seats to Democrats’ 12.

The state house is almost as bad. Congressional districts are, if anything, worse. Towns side by side with common interests are split. Some districts include people with virtually nothing in common living far from each other.

The result hasn’t just meant partisan advantage, but that most districts are so one-sided decent candidates of the other party have no chance. Ask William Broman, a promising young Republican who ran for the legislature last time, against a candidate who had been convicted of eight felonies and was charged with four more.

The criminal won easily, and then was forced to resign to avoid prison.

Well, now we have a chance to do something about it. Yesterday, the Board of State Canvassers finally approved petition language so those supporting Voters, not Politicians, could start collecting signatures to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year.

That won’t be easy. They don’t have any money to pay for signatures – just eager and willing volunteers. They need 315,000 registered voters to sign over the next six months, and since some signatures are always invalid, they really need a lot more.

Even if it gets on the ballot, the establishment will fight this ferociously. They are already threatening law suits over a technicality in the affidavit attached to the petition, and large sums of money are sure to be spent on commercials designed to mislead the public.

But make no mistake about it; this will be perhaps the only chance in my lifetime to give us the kind of representation we need and deserve.

There are flaws in this proposal; the process for deciding who can serve on the redistricting commission is highly complex and way too restrictive. For example, if a spouce, child, step-child or parents-in-law was an intern five years ago for Governor Snyder, you apparently would be barred from being on the nonpartisan commission to draw new legislative boundaries.

Clearly, it may need tweaking. But even given all that, this is far superior to what we have now. As they say, we shouldn’t allow our desire for the perfect to sabotage the good.

Michigan state government was one of the best in the nation years ago, but has been absolutely ruined by term limits and hyper-partisan gerrymandering. If we want to take our state back so we can really fix the roads and educate our kids, this is the place to start.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story had an example from an earlier version of the proposal regarding who would be exempt from serving. The proposal has been updated and so has this essay.

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